Friday, July 10, 2009

Ben Stein's Final Column

My friend, Eileen, sent me this in an email today. You may have received it from someone yourself, but if you haven't, I really feel it's worth reading:

Ben Stein's final column --
For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column called 'Monday Night At Morton's.' (Morton's is a famous chain of Steakhouses known to be frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the globe.) Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his life. Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time.

Ben Stein's Last Column...

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

As I begin to write this, I 'slug' it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is 'eonline FINAL,' and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have over-taken it . On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened.. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a 'star' we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model ? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails..

They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. Soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him..

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. Soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.
Now you have my idea of a real hero.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But, I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will..

By Ben Stein


Dianne said...

he certainly has a point about who we regard as heroes and role models but I have to say that Ben Stein has often said some of the most ridiculous and spiteful things as he went from entertaining to GOP shill

one of my most favorite moments was when he was on Craig Ferguson's show spouting off about how stars didn't do enough for the soldiers and Craig asked him if he had done a USO tour himself - Craig had done 2, and has since done more - of course the answer was No and Stein tried to blame the USO for not responding. Craig offered to take him on his next tour or arrange with the USO for him.

To the best of my knowledge Ben has not put his body where his mouth is.

bobbie said...

This is true, Dianne. He was never one of my favorite people. But I love this piece, and others I have read or heard from him.
Even in this, I have to say I am not a great fan of the military in general. But he cites specifics in which these kids, most of whom probably shouldn't have been there to begin with, saw a need and did what he or she had to because of the persons they were. That's what makes a hero. The performers and sports personalities we celebrate can't measure up to that.

Daryl said...

As always Bobbie a wake up call post ... but I do have to agree with Dianne, Mr Stein needs to back up his remarks with his own actions

Sylvia K said...

I agree with Dianne and Daryl, it is a wake up post, but I can't deal with Ben Stein -- never could, and he does indeed need to back up his remarks with his own actions.

Celeste Maia said...

Ben Stein has been a lot of things, and his comments have been provocative and interesting. But his dichotomy of heroes between movie stars and soldiers is ludicrous. It is a comparison that would occur to only someone with thier nose buried in a steak in Mortons. Movie stars are put through their paces over and over in front of the camera until they get a version of a scene that the director wants. Soldiers are thrust into impossibile life-threatening situations by political leaders far away making decisions based on calculations that the soldier never dreams of.

I wish Ben Stein well as he sums up his life on how he has been as a son, husband and father, but that is his private reckoning. I, for one, am happy to see him out of public life.

bobbie said...

Very well put, Celeste.
Unfortunately, I don't think he has left public life. We will continue to see more of him.
I do agree with all of you, but still contend that the public's adoration of the celebrity is tragically misplaced. When I say "celebrity" I am not referring to the true actor, but to the "star" who frequently in today's world is all splash and no particular talent, and certainly not a hero in my eyes.

Mare said...

I agree with Ben Stein's column. I've always thought our culture was seriously flawed in holding up the rich, famous, and good looking people as stars...worth big bucks.
His column basically said that. I watch CBS Sunday Morning [TV show] and he is often on it with commentary that I agree with. And there you have it!! Thanks for sharing the column.

karin said...

These comments are much more interesting to me than the original post since I never even heard of Ben Stein. I have internet access but not TV and never read this man's column. But he sounds like a jerk. Someplace I think I mentioned that when I'm down I sing John Lennon's Imagine or Dona Nobis Pacem. When things are really bad I recite a Buddist chant: nam myo ho renn gay hyo. I'm not much into stars and heroes but always am on the lookout for enlightened beings